Monday, March 3, 2008

How I fell in love with my heart

i know, i know: it's a ponderous title for a blog, "sonography of the heart." but let me tell you the story of today, and maybe you can see why, ponderous or not, i like it.

i've been having some health troubles over the last couple of years. i had a wee breakdown in the late summer/early fall of 2006, after which I was on medical leave for six months. i took effexor (venlafaxine) for 18 months. by december 2007 i was having trouble staying conscious. what i mean is, i was fainting routinely. one time i cracked my head open on a sharp-edged table going down, leaving me with a rakish scar over my right eye. it was worrying. i was worried. my partner was worried. and so my doctor referred me to a cardiologist. (at the same time, i was having hot flashes, gaining weight, and experiencing other unpleasant things, so i decided to quit effexor, which i'm sure you'll hear more about in future posts.)

this morning was my first of four cardiac tests, an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. i was nervous about it. i knew it wouldn't hurt, but what might it mean? i tried to prepare myself for anything.

but i could not have prepared myself for what i experienced, which is that an echocardiogram is beautiful. stunning, actually. i nearly wept at the beauty of it, my four-chambered heart beating away, valves doing their valvular thing, the mechanism -- no, the muscle of it -- working steadily away and asking nothing in return. the image is the type we've all grown familiar with through two decades, now, of pregnancy ultrasounds: grainy horizontal lines where nothing is particularly clear except the dizzying fact that you are looking at your own insides. the tech (a lovely woman who described some of the tattoos she's seen in over fifteen years of doing this work) took images from several different perspectives during the forty-minute procedure. there was a photoshop-like pallet on the righthand side of the screen. when she turned on the color, squirts of red light and blue light coursed through the centre of the image. occasionally a mustard yellow explosion with a white centre marked -- well, i'm not sure just what it marked, exactly, but something electrifying. the tech looked at the back of my heart through my liver ("nice liver!"). she looked at the top of my heart coming down through my esophagus. she showed me the walls of my heart ("gorgeous!") and measured my diastolic and systolic blood pressure. i felt weirdly flattered -- no one's ever complimented my liver before -- and i felt humble and awed to see everything my heart does projected onto a TV screen.

then the tech turned on the sound, and it was liking being at the aquarium. the sound was dopplerized, turning my heartbeat from the conventional lub-dub into something that, oh, a manatee might say. "don't worry about the sound," said the tech, to reassure me, "sound is good!" but i was already gone on it. i was thinking of that song by Stars, the montreal band, that starts "i am [chris/amy/torq/etc], and this is my heart." i am heather, and this is my heart -- and, i thought suddenly, i'm going to blog this. i'm going to try to capture the resonances normally beyond human hearing, echo and amplify them, cast them in language. i will listen to my heart.

and this is where my blog begins: me, lying in a darkened room, the march snow forgotten, looking at the incontrovertible evidence that i am, simply, alive.

6 comments:

ted said...

I am so freaked out by my organs I can't even spend to much time underwater in the bathtub out of fear of hearing my heartbeat.

It is similar to people who can't bring themselves to think about the logistics of flight. If I think about out will it stop working.

I guess it also comes from misguided guilt: if my heart fails me it is because I failed my heart. Silly I know...

Ted

Roberta said...

Beautiful Heather....what a great experience. When you are doing your exercises etc. possibly you will visualize your heart and realize you are doing something that is good for it and know it is a good thing.

rwgray said...

You are a beautiful writer, Z.

I had a similar thing happen a few years ago with my heart. I had a condition that would make my heart race for up to 12 hours, though it would think it was chilling out on the couch. My heart didn't know itself. :) All the love songs in the world have made it so we can't talk about our own hearts. Glad you met yours.

Jen Alabiso said...

This is gorgeous writing - and luscious thinking...the sensuality of our bodies is staggering, hey?

glad to hear, too, about you following up on YOU and your health...

Shawna Lemay said...

Heather - this is really beautiful and powerful and wow! Also, welcome to blogging...

Anonymous said...

I had thought to share my amazing experiences meeting two of my three babies while still in the womb, but I was inspired instead to share this with you;
http://www.lifeevents.org/taoist-inner-smile-meditation.htm

I have been doing the Inner Smile for years now, and my kidneys always make me laugh! I have adapted the practice somewhat - I smile at my organs, but then I stay open for them to smile back. Seems less one-sided:)

It made anatomy class last year a bit more personal too!

Love your style and thank you so much for sharing bits of yourself. So precious...

D.